Friday, January 15, 2016

Working With Your Personality To Reach Your Writing Goals

Have you caught Gretchen Rubin fever yet? She's the author of best-selling self-help books including THE HAPPINESS PROJECT and her latest, BETTER THAN BEFORE. She also has a new hit podcast called HAPPIER, which she hosts with her sister, television writer Elizabeth Craft (who, incidentally, was an editor for the SWEET VALLEY series around the time I was ghostwriting, but our paths never crossed). If you aren't familiar with Rubin's work, she studies behavior and how we can work with our personalities to achieve our goals.

I'm particularly fascinated by Rubin's concept called "The Four Tendencies". According to her book, BETTER THAN BEFORE, people tend to fall into four different categories when faced with expectations (both inner and outer). Here's a quick overview of The Four Tendencies (if you're not sure which category you fit into, Rubin has quizzes on her website to help you determine your tendency). Disclaimer: this is my interpretation of Rubin's book and may not represent her work precisely. For a more thorough explanation, be sure to read the book.

The Four Tendencies:

UPHOLDERS are people who respond well to both inner and outer expectations. Upholders keep the promises they make to themselves and to others. They set goals and follow through. For example, if Upholders decide they need to get into shape, they'll stick to their diets and go to the gym without fail. While they are extremely disciplined, they can sometimes be seen as rigid. Upholders are accountable to themselves and others. They make up a small percentage of population.

OBLIGERS are the people pleasers. Most people fall into this category. Obligers are motivated by the fear of disappointing others, but aren't so good at meeting their own expectations. For instance, if an Obliger wants to get more exercise, they'll go for a walk every day if they have a walking partner, BUT if the walking partner happens to be sick one day, they'll probably stay home and eat potato chips on the couch instead. Obligers need accountability from outside sources.

QUESTIONERS are the opposite of Obligers. Questioners are good at keeping promises to themselves, but reject being told what to do. If a Questioner wants to go to the gym regularly, they'll go. However, if someone tells them they have to go to the gym because it will make them healthier, they'll need need statistics and documentation to back up the claim and then they'll make up their own minds to go--if there seems to be a good reason for it. Questioners are accountable only to themselves.

REBELS are the opposite of Upholders. They don't like limitations of any kind--from themselves or others. Among the Four Tendencies, this is the most rare category. When something needs to get done, Rebels have to want to do it. The task has to be fun--otherwise, forget it.

I don't think everyone fits neatly into one of the categories all the time--for example, I define myself as an Obliger with Questioner tendencies--but recognizing what motivates you can have a profound effect on making you a more productive writer.

How can we apply The Four Tendencies to our writing ?

If You're an Upholder...Deadlines from editors are not a problem for you. You know you'll meet that deadline, no problem. However, if you don't have a contract it's important that you set deadlines or goals for yourself whether it be setting time aside each day to write or setting your own deadline for a project. Use specific times and dates.

When it comes to following the advice of editors, you're very cooperative about making changes. However, be careful of your perfectionist tendencies, which can keep you from moving forward.

If You're an Obliger...You'll bend over backwards to meet any deadline because the thought of letting your publisher down strikes fear in your heart. When you're on your own without a deadline, you need to decide on a writing goal (with a specific date) and then tell everyone you know about it. Having others know your goals will keep you accountable.

Like Upholders, you are easy to work with during the editing process. The one pitfall to look out for is that your people-pleasing ways sometimes prevent you from standing your ground. You don't always have to make the suggested changes. Do what feels right and don't be afraid to speak up if it doesn't.

If You're a Questioner...Personal goals and deadlines are important to you--editorial deadlines, not so much. It may help to find out the full publication schedule, then you'll better understand why that particular date was chosen. If you know a few weeks out that you're going to miss a deadline, be sure to give your editor a heads-up. If they know ahead of time, often they can work around the new date.

You tend to push back when given editorial suggestions. While there's nothing wrong with following your gut instinct, try to remember that the ultimate goal for everyone involved is to make your work the best it can be. Take the time to consider a suggestion. Ask all the questions you need to understand the reasoning behind a change. You may discover the reason is valid.

If You're a Rebel...What can I say? If you want to write a book or short story or article, write it; if you don't, don't. Since you like to do things your own way, I wouldn't recommend sending agents proposals or half-finished manuscripts. Write the entire piece the way you like, at your own pace, before sending it out. Maybe self-publishing is the best route for you.

I envy you rebels, being able to write for yourself without worrying about pleasing others. I'm convinced some of our most creative minds are rebels. I would caution you not to adopt that 'difficult artist' persona, however. Find a way to work with others without sacrificing your artistic integrity. Being difficult will only hurt you in the end. But never mind what I think--you're going to do what you want, anyway.

Have you recognized your tendency? How has it hurt/helped your work?

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